Artist-in-Residence comes home

Trinity College 1977, with thanks to May Cropley
Trinity College 1977, with thanks to May Cropley

My first week as Artist-in-Residence at Trinity College, Bristol has passed in a flurry of grant applications, delivering books and studio, and finding the teaspoons. Getting to the post on time, clocking in with my PhD supervisor in Cheltenham, remembering that my long summer loans have expired on my books, talking to the tax-woman and forgetting to bring in that all-important accessory, the Church of England wall-calendar has left me dizzy. But all of that is circling the right space.

I’m looking at the Trinity College photo of 1977, in which I find my parents, Tom Gledhill and Serena Holroyd. In their late ’30s, they met here, and a year after this photo was taken, they married. Another year later and I was born in Bristol, which had become their UK base in the midst of inter-continental travels including Uganda, Nigeria, India, Malawi and Kenya. The hairs go up on the back of my neck with this photo. Initially because of the invisible relation happening between my parents, stretched across the space (which I’ve talked about before – in this case, mistakenly identifying them in the 1978 photo): my Dad is in the centre at the back, as if his is the crest on the lintel behind him, and my Mum is second from the far left, standing.

But there is more to this now that I’m here too, working. As I look, I see a geometry with my own personal triangulation of father, mother and me; and also now a geometry with people, building and environment. Though this is more a sedimentary layering than a triangulation: the people are the front line, the presenting face, the uniformity of purpose; the building is the constructed stage, the bearer of history and inscription; the environment is the wavering shimmering reflection in the windows of surrounding trees and sky. The picture turns a collective portrait scene into abstract strata – there is no side or back. But if the lack of depth or conversation is frustrating, it’s also the perfect backdrop for a new adventure. A new adventure into pictures and place. I like to think I might be a little bit like one of the group, a young man towards the top left, who resolutely turns his head to the side, avoiding the common gaze.

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